Archive for July 12, 2011

The Best British Short Stories 2011. Part I

July 12, 2011 9 comments

The Best British Short Stories 2011, presented by Nicholas Royle. 239 pages.

 It all started by a funny mistake. An employee of Salt Publishing was looking for John Self’s blog, The Asylum. But Google is facetious –or just basically logical– and she ended up on my post about Money by Martin Amis. She enjoyed it and asked me if I would like to read two of their books. I was interested in a copy of The Best British Short Stories 2011. Nicholas Royle sent me the PDF file of the book after exchanging a few e-mails in his almost perfect French. (I’m delighted to discover fluent French-speaking Anglo-Saxons everyday).

It isn’t easy to write about a collection of short stories written by 19 different authors. Obviously, I can’t describe them all, it would be fastidious and boring to read. I thought I’d pick the ones I liked the most, because their style suited me or the theme triggered something in me. It doesn’t mean that the other ones aren’t worth reading. It’s a personal blog, it’s going to be a personal selection. I’ll write the full list of the short stories at the end of the post.

I found Emergency Exit by Lee Rourke really special. A man, in an office, feels the urge to leave the premises through the emergency stairs. We don’t know what he runs from, it just seems urgent. I needed an emergency exit from that short story because the atmosphere cut my breath. I felt oppressed myself. I remembered reading reviews of The Canal and I was intrigued. He sounded like a promising writer which this short-story confirms. His style is precise, vivid, cut with a razor. 

Total change of setting and style. I can’t help quoting the first paragraph of Love Silk Food by Leone Ross.

Mrs Neecy Brown’s husband is falling in love. She can tell because the love is stuck to the walls of house, making the wallpaper sticky, and it seeps into the calendar in her kitchen, so bad that she can’t see what the date is and the love keeps ruining the food: whatever she does or however hard she concentrates, everything turns to mush. The dumplings lack squelch and bite – they come out doughy and stupid like grey belches floating in her carefully salted water. Her famed liver and green banana is mush too: everything has become too soft and falling apart, like food made for babies. Silk food, her mother used to call it.

Mrs Neecy Brown’s husband is falling in love. Not with her, no.

 We follow Mrs Neecy Brown through her day, in her vain attempt to swallow that his husband is falling in love with someone else. Again. I won’t spoil the unexpected turn of her journey.

In Foreigner, Christopher Burns explores the absurdity of Western wars, when we send soldiers to defend a cause they don’t fully understand like the Falkland War and nowadays Iraq and Afghanistan. The main character is a soldier. His ex-wife questions the motives of these wars, facing the facts that soldiers haven’t fought for a right cause, that they have been fooled. He can’t accept this or his life would be a lie, he would have sacrificed his peace of mind for nothing.

Diner of the Dead Alumni by Adam Marek is a strange story, half-real with magic thoughts and half-ghost story:

Today the streets of Cambridge are crawling with dead alumni. Their ghosts perch on punts, trailing their fingers through the green weed without raising a ripple.

We’re in Preston’s mind, who’s 32, married with two daughters and still clings to his teenage belief “in the spontaneous orgasm of two people perfectly attuned to each other”. Now Preston sweeps the reader along the streets of Cambridge, running after a woman he imagines will be his perfect match for the spontaneous orgasm. Usually I’m not fond of ghost stories but the idea of playful dead alumni from Cambridge lingering in the streets of the city, interfering in human affairs and hovering over a diner to celebrate the 350 anniversary of the famous university was entertaining.

 As a mother, I thought So Much Time in a Life by Heather Leach rather chilling. I didn’t know where she wanted to lead me and I enjoyed the intertwined plies of the characters and the writer acting on the characters slowing knitting a story. It’s not new but it was well-used.

I confess I didn’t understand Feather Girls by Claire Massey. I would have pitied Jack in Staff Development if he hadn’t been so obsessed by sex.As I had already too much to tell about the first 10 stories, I’ll write another post about the last 10 ones and try to make a wrap up of the book.

To be continued…


Here is the complete list of the short stories.    

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